Gettysburg Connection is proud to present regular reports from the Green Gettysburg Book Club. The club is part of Green Gettysburg, an organization that provides a forum for exchange of information, announcements, links and likes on topics related to environmental issues of all kinds. The Green Gettysburg Book Club has been meeting weekly on Zoom since Valentine’s Day in 2020.

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An Evangelical Christian Climate Scientist Presents a New Strategy for Communicating about Climate Change

When climate scientist and evangelical Christian Katharine Hayhoe was scheduled to give a talk at a West Texas Rotary Club luncheon, she was a little unsure about how to connect with her audience despite being a longtime Texas resident herself. Climate change and its human causes, she figured, might well be a hard sell with this crowd of business leaders and professionals. But arriving a little early in the hotel ballroom she noticed a large banner at one end of the room that spelled out the “Four Way Test,” a statement of the club’s guiding principles. To assess the value of things we think, say, or do, we should, it said, ask four questions: Is it the truth?  Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? And will it benefit all concerned?

Inspired, she skipped the lunch, and quickly rewrote her presentation in terms of these four fundamental questions. Is climate change the truth? Yes, unfortunately it is. We’ve got the data to prove it,  Hayhoe reflected, but more and more these days we also have the testimony of many Americans who are experiencing first hand its disruptive and damaging effects.  Is it fair?  Absolutely not, she reasoned, since those most affected often have little to do with causing the problem. But facing that problem squarely and setting to work together to address it effectively would surely build good will and benefit all concerned. So, how did that talk turn out?  Did the audience respond?

In her new book, Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World, Hayhoe answers that question and goes on to present a multifaceted strategy for communicating effectively about climate change.  “At first,” she says, “there were a lot of folded arms, but as I worked my way through the Four-Way Test people leaned forward. Heads began to nod. They recognized their values on the screen.”  Concern about climate change was now grounded in values the audience already passionately embraced, allowing them to see the issue in a whole new light.

Saving Us has been the been the Green Gettysburg Book Club selection for January and has stimulated many lively conversations as we’ve explored Hayhoe’s “tool box” for better climate change communication.  So what’s in this tool box, what suggestions does this author offer for having those difficult conversations on controversial topics like climate change?

She begins by emphasizing the power of talk. Often we say, “Well, that’s all well and good but it’s just talk.”  For Hayhoe, however, part of the job is overcoming the silence that surrounds climate change in many of our lives.  Conversations, she says, particularly conversations across the political divide, can make a real difference even when they are inconclusive and no minds are changed.

It’s important to begin, she says, by being who you are and speaking up for what you love and hope to protect and pass on to future generations. A healthy planet, sure, but often something more concrete is a whole lot easier to talk about: a beautiful landscape, song birds, clean water and trout fishing in a nearby stream free of plastic pollution all come to mind.

Perhaps the most important thing, however, is to listen carefully to what your partners have to say, not in order to put together a clever reply but to more fully understand their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it.  What do they love? What matters to them? Where is the common ground between you and your audience? Once shared values are identified, a relationship can form and real communication may become possible.

For Katharine Hayhoe, effective communication is all about establishing a relationship of trust. Facts are essential but usually not sufficient for changing minds. Being heard, being really listened to and understood, she says, is often the first step toward a new way of thinking.

Next up for the Club is The Search for the Mother Tree by forest scientist Suzanne Simard. Simard was the first scientist to measure chemical communication between trees through their roots and the mycelia in forest soil. Her book recounts her struggle to present this new way of thinking about forests to the scientific community.

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Green Gettysburg aims to provide a forum for exchange of information, announcements, links and likes on topics related to environmental issues of all kinds, especially for residents of Gettysburg and surrounding communities in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

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